The customer is not always right.
This is a concept I always discuss when providing workplace anti-harassment training. I often learn that managers are unaware that they have an obligation to address harassing conduct of third parties. It’s therefore not surprising that there continue to be numerous EEOC charges and lawsuits involving allegations that a manager failed to properly address harassing conduct of non-employees.
Here’s a recent example: The EEOC just filed suit against a chain of stations and convenience stores, alleging the company failed to stop harassment to an employee when a customer repeatedly subjected an employee to unwanted sexual advances and other offensive conduct. According to the Complaint, the harassment occurred over the course of months and was reported to company officials repeatedly, both by the employee and others. Despite such notification, the company failed to take prompt remedial action to stop the harassment. To make matters worse, the company allegedly failed to keep this employee’s medical information confidential.
No employee should be subjected to harassment in the workplace – whether such conduct is at the hands of another employee, member of management, or third party. Unfortunately, this case is yet another reminder for employers to ensure their managers are trained to properly respond to complaints of harassment, even if the alleged harasser is not an employee of the company.